In London’s Highgate Cemetery a huge granite pillar stands atop the grave of Karl Marx. On it is a bust of Marx, his cheeks puffed out like Kris Kringle’s, his eyes set deep and resolute. Chiseled on the granite is this dictum of the father of Communism: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is to change it.”
I agree with Karl Marx—the world needs to be changed. But how? That is the point.
Today the Christian Church is being called to evangelize people caught up in cataclysmic change. This truth was smashed into my heart nearly a decade ago as a friend and I were flying in Africa. Africa was throbbing with the great drive for freedom; the thunder of change was in the air. My friend handed his Bible to me, pointing to this passage from Jeremiah: “The Word of the LORD came to me … saying, ‘What do you see?’ And Jeremiah said, ‘I see a boiling pot, a seething cauldron.…’ ”
“A seething cauldron.” That is a perfect image to describe our world—an age shaken and convulsed by the greatest revolutions of all time. When the mobs stormed the Bastille in 1789 to start the French Revolution, King Louis is said to have remarked, “This is a revolt.” Someone replied, “No, sir, this is a revolution.” And that is the mark of our age—not isolated revolt but total revolution.
Revolution is change—total, constant, irresistible, rapid, pervasive change that affects every part of our lives. In America there is a demographic revolution as great groups of people move about in gigantic population shifts. By 1980 the Christian Church will find its evangelistic mission focused on the 90 per cent of all Americans who will live in great strip cities, already dubbed with such peculiar names as Boswash, Chipitt, and Sansan. We live, too, in a blindingly fast technological revolution. From the time telegraph was discovered until it was commercially applied took 112 years; for transistors that application gap shrank to five years. Our exploding technology is like all the rockets at Cape Kennedy going off at once in some Fourth of July spectacular.
The strange plight of modern man is that while his knowledge is exploding, the whole idea of “true truth,” truth that is the opposite of falsehood, is disappearing. In art, philosophy, theology, and the total pattern of his thinking, twentieth-century man seeks to escape from reason. Everything is considered relevant. This has led inevitably to a moral revolution, the shift from an absolute ethic to a situation ethic, from a morality based on God’s eternal law to one based on man’s personal likes. There have always been those who have violated society’s moral codes, but has there ever been a generation that repudiated the very idea of any binding standard?
All these changes are compounded by the communications revolution, which has shrunk this planet into one world and extended our eyes to the moon. The immediacy of the mass media, especially TV, has placed us all in what Marshall McLuhan calls a “global village.” Today’s news today is not just what’s happened; it’s what’s happening.
The children of the electronic age are the first generation ever to know more than their parents. When young people say that those over thirty don’t understand, they may be arrogant, but they are also partly right. Most of the changes we’ve mentioned have taken place in the last thirty years. Those of us born before 1939 are like immigrants, feeling our way around a new land. Only the young know this world as natives know their own country. And to under-thirty Christians I say: We need to hear you. In two years the average age in America will be twenty-four. The task of confronting this changing age with a changeless Christ belongs largely to you. Yours is the vocal generation, so don’t be silent here! Listen and learn. But speak. Tell it like it is. Plead. Provoke. Make us mad if you have to. Do it with love and humility. But do it!
The Goal Of Radicals
This is also a day of great political change. When the radicals in our society call for revolution, what they have in mind is not another struggle like the American Revolution, with its limited goals, but something much closer to the French and Communist revolutions, which totally rejected the old regimes. Radicals in contemporary America have made their goal clear: they are convinced that American society is so corrupt and unworkable that the system cannot be changed but must be destroyed. When asked what they have to replace it, many of them answer that this is not their concern. It should be ours, for they are out to create a vacuum that would quickly be filled by totalitarianism of the left or the right.
Yet we dare not be blind to the lesson all modern revolutions have taught: When men of privilege abuse their power and refuse justice, sooner or later upheaval will come. President Kennedy put it memorably: “He who makes peaceful revolution impossible makes violent revolution inevitable.”
Today revolution is fueled by the freedom drive that is surging through the entire world of men—the struggle for identity, dignity, security, and equality. In America the flash points of the freedom revolution are poverty and racism.
The poor we have always had with us, but the gap yawns wider every year. The new factor is that poor people are learning that not everyone is poor, and that change is possible. Put TV in a ghetto home, let a slum mother see ads for low-calorie dog foods and electric toothbrushes when her baby has had his ears chewed by a rat, and you’ve got a revolution.
Racism is not just a problem of the South, or of America, or of the white man. It is a worldwide symptom of sin. But God has told us to confess our own sins, not those of the rest of the world. I hold no brief for James Forman’s “Black Manifesto.” Yet if our reaction is simply to lash back at Forman, and if we do not seek to heal the gaping, aching, rubbed-raw wounds of racial strife, then we shall deserve “the fire next time.”
It is to the shame of the Christian Church that we have been so slow to face the demands of the Gospel in the racial revolution of our time. With some notable exceptions, we have moved only when we have been run over from behind. We have enjoyed, many of us, our privileged position at the “white hand of God.”
What, you may ask, does this have to do with evangelism? Well, let me ask what kind of Gospel we are preaching when a church sends missionaries to convert Africans, but suggests to the black American that he go to his own church with his own kind. Why should the black man listen to us talk about a home in heaven, when we refuse to make him at home in our neighborhood and our schools? What, I ask you, does this not have to do with evangelism?
The right of men to freedom, dignity, and respect comes directly from the Bible, from the story that God made man, that God loves man, and that the Son of God laid down his life for man. This is the ultimate source of human worth. The whole idea that the course of history can be altered, that man is not the slave of fate, arises from the Christian view that history moves toward a climax in the return of Christ.
What then should be the stance of the Christian Church in an age of revolution?
Some call for the blind rejection of all revolution; others demand a naïve acceptance of all revolution. Some would like to ignore change; others would like to baptize change as the new messiah. As responsible Christians we must reject both extremes.
We cannot be worthy of our high calling if we try to keep God in some private, undisturbed corner of our lives and ignore the driving winds of change. While revolution was raging in Petrograd in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church was in session a few blocks away having a hot debate—about what color vestments their priests should wear! God help us if we strain at gnats while the camels of revolution are marching.
Some change should be opposed. We Christians have a stake in preserving the historic truth of the Gospel and the worthy values of the past. Like Jeremiah we say, “Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is.” But we also know that sin infects every man and every human institution. So we need a holy discontent with the status quo. The Gospel calls for constant change. Conversion is a change of direction. Repentance is a change of mind. The Christian life is a continual change from glory to glory. God is not tied to seventeenth-century English, eighteenth-century hymns, nineteenth-century architecture, and twentieth-century clichés. God is constantly prodding us as he did the people of Israel and saying, “Strike your tents and move on!”
Revolt With A Religious Rationale
The naïve approval of revolution is an equally foolish mistake. There are those who would recast Jesus as the patron saint of guerrilla fighters, and see the Church’s task as being “the hand-maiden or water-boy of world revolution.” One theologian lists the various changes going on in the world and concludes, “God is in all these revolutions.” I think it’s fair to reply: How do you know? How does one know whether it is God or the devil at work in revolution? Jesus told of a house where one demon was cast out and seven more came in. A revolution that takes place in a spiritual vacuum will open the door wide for the invasion of the demons.
Communism is a prime example. We should repudiate the efforts to couple evangelism with a crude, sword-rattling anti-Communism. Yet we cannot blind ourselves to the brutalities that have marked the Communist movement. This ruthlessness is more than the excess of a young revolution. It is the direct outgrowth of an atheistic doctrine that deifies the system and dehumanizes man.
A close link has been forged between sexual rebellion and political subversion. There is something demonic about the obsession with the obscene. The sex of the sixties is sick. It’s a symptom of spiritual rebellion, of man’s attempt to tear down his relationship with his Maker. Time recently noted that four-letter words have become a tool of protest against the establishment. The “Playboy” philosophy of sex as recreation is almost outdated; it is now sex as revolution. If we ignore this connection between sexual and political anarchy, and go around patting all the radical revolutionaries on the head as God’s secret agents, then we are spiritually blind, theologically naïve, and politically stupid.
The abuse of drugs is another part of the anarchist rebellion. Herbert Marcuse, the oracle of the New Left, has called for a fight to legalize marijuana as “a means of total opposition.”
Faced with these realities, the Christian cannot blindly approve all revolution. There is really only one course open to us: to be neither total resisters nor total rebels, but revolutionaries—Christian style.
History’s greatest revolution began not under a red star in Petrograd in 1917 but under the star of Bethlehem two thousand years ago in the cradle where God invaded history. In Jesus Christ, God began the great reversal. Human categories were turned upside down and the proud and the humble, the mighty and the weak, the rich and the poor changed places.
The early Christians were a band of revolutionaries, Christian style. The Book of Acts gives us a series of glimpses of them scattered in the cities of the Roman Empire. At Jerusalem we see an economic revolution. “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). In Antioch we see a social revolution. “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1)—two Jews, two Africans, and a Roman aristocrat. All races and classes had become beautiful in Christ. In Corinth we see a moral revolution. Corinth was a cesspool of evil and perversion. Yet Paul, writing to the Christians in that city, catalogues the vices of Corinth and then exclaims: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). At the end of the Book of Acts we see Paul in Rome—a spiritual revolutionary at work. “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30, 31). When these Christians showed up in Thessalonica, their enemies paid them a backhanded compliment, saying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
One of our main failures in evangelism has been “undersell.” We have made the Gospel seem cheap, tame, and dull. We ought to be saying to the students and the people of the world, “We too are revolutionaries! We too want to see things changed. But we believe only one revolution is big enough, and deep enough, and powerful enough to change the world. It will take everything you’ve got—but come join Christ’s revolution!”
Ponder those pictures of the early Christians. What impression do you get? Here was a revolutionary God, releasing revolutionary power through a revolutionary community, in revolutionary action. These are still the essential ingredients in the Christian recipe for revolution.
When those early Christians were arrested for disturbing the peace they lifted their voices in prayer and quoting their Bible said, “Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth, and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of David … didst say by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why do the Gentiles rage?’ ” According to the Psalm from which they quoted, when men rebel against God’s authority, “he who sits in the heaven laughs; the Lord has them in derision.” These early Christian revolutionaries had implicit confidence that their God was at the master controls of history. Rebellion against his rule was bound to fail. He laughed from heaven at the empty posturings and vain plans of those who set themselves to topple him from his throne. The rushes and changes of history were under his supervision. When Jeremiah saw the vision of the seething cauldron, the Lord said, “Look. I am calling … the kingdoms of the north … and they shall come.” Heathen nations and kings were his personnel. If the Jews would not carry out God’s plans, then he would use the heathen. He calls Assyria “the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury” (Isa. 10:5). He describes Cyrus, the heathen king of Persia, as “my anointed” (Isa. 45).
Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians! Violence, tumult, upheaval! All of this permitted by the God of the Bible! He is not dead. He is not sick. He is not asleep. He is the Lord of history, who is working out his purposes as year succeeds to year. He who made Cyrus his unconscious tool is not dismayed by Mao Tse-tung! This God will take the wild rage of the ghettos, the apathy of the suburbs, the unrest on the campus, the nightmare of Viet Nam, and weave these tangled threads into the fabric of his plan.
When the first Christians prayed to this God, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken (Acts 4:29–31)—shaken by the Lord of hosts, who said through Haggai, “Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor” (Hag. 2:6). We gladly confess, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” But do we also believe in God the Father Almighty, shaker of heaven and earth? Or have we lost our poise because somehow we feel that our world has gotten beyond God’s control?
When we see our world shaken as never before, it is not a time to despair; it is a time to watch God opening doors that have never before been open. A black Ph.D who is working in the New York ghettos told me of the upheaval that is coming in the inner city. Then he made this significant comment: “The present revolutionary ferment in the city, when people have come to the end of their resources, is a perfect opportunity for preaching the Gospel.”
In a day of revolution, evangelism must begin with a new vision of the revolutionary God who is shaking all nations so that their treasures may come in—so that from every people, and tongue, and tribe, and nation may come the parade of precious lives, human treasures, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and giving glory to God!
The Church stands with all mankind at a crossroad, sharing a common concern: Which way do we go to make a new world? There are some who say, “Learn”—education is the way. Some say, “Earn”—economic development will solve our problems. Some voices are crying, “Burn”—society is so corrupt we must destroy it. There is truth in all of this. But Jesus Christ says, “Turn. Be converted. Put your trust in God. Seek first his will. Then you can be part of the new world God is making.”
Most revolutions fail because they are not revolutionary enough. They fail to grasp the fundamental problem, the problem of the human heart. I believe it was Churchill who once said that the root error of Communism and all utopianism was an over-optimistic view of human nature. Every revolutionary movement must come to grips with the fact of sin. What we need is a more radical, more revolutionary revolution which understands that before there can be real revolution there must be genuine repentance.
Christians are often accused of undue pessimism in always harping on sin. Yet only when sin is faced as a moral reality is there hope. If the predicament rises from a wrong combination of chemicals, or from psychological factors beyond man’s control, then man is just programed wrong and we should abandon ourselves to evil. But if the cause of our problem is rebellion against God, then there can be an answer from God’s side.
Our Gospel claims that Almighty God came into human history to liberate human nature. He came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. By the supernatural birth of Jesus Christ, God has begun a new humanity into which we may enter by a new birth. By the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, God has made it possible to wipe the slate clean, freeing those who believe from the crippling effects of guilt. By the risen life of Jesus Christ, shared with us through the Holy Spirit, God enables us to shake off our moral failure. And in the community of forgiven and redeemed men, God gives us a place where we can foretaste the new wine of God’s new world.
The reason why this Christian conversion is so revolutionary is that it is so complete. When a man meets Jesus Christ, God begins to heal all his broken relationships, to put him right with God, with himself, and with his fellow men. Today, when our churches are being torn apart between the so-called soul-savers at one pole and the so-called social reformers at the other, it is imperative that we keep in view the completeness of the Gospel and resist the temptation of both extremes.
When Abraham Vereide, founder of International Christian Leadership, died last May, someone described his vision in a statement that should be true of the entire Church: “For him, a scheme to reconstruct society which ignored the redemption of the individual was unthinkable; but a doctrine to save sinning men with no aim to transform them into crusaders against social sin was equally unthinkable.”
Our evangelism must insist that conversion is a beginning, not an end. Too often converts keep looking back to what happened when they were converted, instead of what happened next. We have sometimes said too blithely, “The best way to change the world is to get men converted.” That statement has an important kernel of truth, but it can be misleading. The new birth gives the potential for personality change, but the change does not take place automatically. Conversion must lead to Christian growth.
We must be realistic in the expectations we have for social change as a result of personal conversion. Let’s be very wary of saying that the preaching of the Gospel will solve all of society’s ills. In the first place, there is no biblical warrant for believing that will happen. And in the second place, we know that there are “Bible belts” where the Gospel is preached and people are converted but where there are built-in structures and attitudes of prejudice that change very slowly. That does not mean people are not converted, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit has a great deal of work to do in our hearts and minds after conversion.
Meanwhile, we can give ourselves in joyful abandon to the task of making Christ known, because the Gospel of Christ is God’s revolutionary power! What a revolution is taking place in our world today as Christ invades human personalities! Is there any other system in the world that can match transformed lives against those whom Christ has touched?
Here, I must confess, I come to my biggest question mark. How does the Church—especially the local church and its evangelistic program—fit into God’s revolution? If we take the New Testament seriously, evangelism apart from the Church is a contradiction. The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved, we read in Acts 2:47. Yet we all realize that the Church, as we know it, is often our biggest hang-up in evangelism. There is a widespread disillusionment, almost disgust, with the Church. The brightest and most sensitive of our youth too often turn from the Church, accusing us of having as our theme song, “I Believe in Yesterday,” and of being irrelevant to the realities of the twentieth century. The radical activists would scuttle the Church and say, “Get into the world where the action is.” Evangelicals have often taken the same route. Feeling bottlenecked by the apathy of certain churches, they simply bypass them and channel their evangelistic concern through a host of specialized organizations. God has blessed these efforts, but sadly there has been an unhealthy sense of rivalry, on occasion, between these movements and pastors and churches.
It is no adequate response to this age of revolution to turn the churches’ evangelistic responsibility completely over to specialists. Too often we have talked of missions and evangelism as if they were adjuncts of the Church’s life, optional activities to be supported by those who are interested in that sort of thing. In truth, mission and evangelism are the heartbeat of the Church, for the Church lives by the Spirit of its Lord, who said, “As my Father sent me into the world, so send I you” (see John 20:21). When the Church ceases to evangelize, it ceases to live.
We need to wrestle with the question of what sudden and radical change is needed so the churches themselves can be the agents of revolutionary evangelism. The issue is not primarily one of numbers. We can expect that the Christian Church will always be a minority movement, as Jesus predicted. So we must measure evangelistic success by the quality as well as the number of the converts. Could anyone have predicted that the tiny handful of disciples at Pentecost would eventually conquer the mighty Roman Empire? There were only 120 of them, among an estimated four million Jews in Palestine alone. That’s a ratio of 1 to 33,000. The crucial question is not, “How big is the Church?” but, “What is the Church?”
In the Bible, the basic idea of the Church is not buildings, or programs, or budgets, but “people”—God’s redeemed people. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry his strategy was to gather a group of men who would continue, deepen, and spread his work. Out of all his followers he chose twelve into whom he could pour his life. What distinguished these men? First, they had a personal commitment to Christ. Mark 3 tells us that Jesus “called … those whom he desired; and they came to him. Second, they had a unique fellowship in Christ. Among them were men of different temperaments like impetuous Peter and quiet John, and of varied political persuasions, like Simon the Zealot, a member of the resistance, and Matthew, who worked for the Roman forces of occupation. Before they met Jesus, Simon would gladly have slit Matthew’s throat! But when Christ accepted them they accepted each other. Third, they had a clear mission for Christ. Jesus called them to “be with him” in personal fellowship, Mark says, but also to “be sent out to preach and … cast out demons,” to make Christ known by word and deed (Mark 3:13–15).
If the Church today is to be the agent of revolutionary evangelism, we must be clear that by the Church we mean those who have made a personal commitment to Christ. You can train people to be evangelists if they have a motivation to share Christ. If they lack this motivation, no amount of training will help. What such people need is an encounter with Christ. What does it mean to have “conversion within the church”? Why do so many students seem to abandon their faith when they go to college? Why do many couples stop attending church when they move to a new city? And how do we help people with a second-hand faith really come alive in Christ?
It is also essential that the Church be able to give a convincing demonstration of fellowship in Christ. In mid-August 400,000 young people went to a music fair at Bethel, New York. Psychoanalyst Rollo May says that event “showed the tremendous hunger, need, and yearning for community on the part of youth.” Can these people find in your church and mine the thing that drove them to Max Yasgur’s farm, the real belonging they were seeking? Are our churches “Bethels” where each person is accepted and known as a person, whatever his bank account or skin color or hair length?
Then we also must understand that the whole Church has a mission for Christ. Every Christian has a responsibility to make Christ known through loving fellowship, compassionate service, patient suffering, and earnest sharing of the good news of the Gospel. Will we take in our churches whatever radical changes are necessary to mobilize the entire membership for continuous evangelism?
Let me make two specific suggestions at this point. For our churches to become committed, caring, witnessing fellowships it will take at least:
1. A revolution in our patterns of ministry. All of us—pastors, teachers, evangelists, laymen—are going to have to understand that the Church cannot afford to be made up of many spectators who pay a few specialists to do the work of evangelism. We pastors and evangelists must see that we are not to do all the work. We are coaches. Our job is to build an evangelistic team, starting with the leadership. What I am saying here is a commonplace. But the thing that concerns me is how few churches are doing anything about it! How many churches have a specific training program to teach their people how to give away their faith? Does yours? Why not? When are you going to start? How many of us pastors and evangelists are choosing twelve men as Jesus did, or even one or two, and equipping them for the work? How many of you laymen are actually insisting that your pastor turn over some of his tasks to others so that he can give you this kind of training?
2. A revolution in the structures of our church life. Jesus preached to the great crowds; he also poured his life into twelve men. In a mass society I believe there will be an increasing place for mass evangelism. But our emphasis will also have to be on small, intimate fellowships, or else people will get lost in the crowd. Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship recently made depth study of the effect size had on their college chapters. They found that once a campus group passed thirty, there was actually a decrease in its evangelistic outreach. In a smaller group everyone had a chance to participate, but as the group grew the sense of involvement was lost.
Small groups aren’t cure-alls, and without adequate spiritual leadership they can encounter serious problems. But I suggest that the Church of the future may well be made up of many such small groups. They will pray, and study, and share their problems, and encourage one another in witness and service. One group might be made up of young couples; another of social workers; a third of converted hippies and motorbikers; a fourth of retired people. All would come together on the Lord’s day to break bread together, to sing joyous songs of celebration together, to listen together to God’s Word, to share testimony of God at work through their lives, and then to scatter for another week of witness.
God’s revolutionary power was released through the Church in revolutionary action. Luke opens the Book of Acts by saying, “In the first book … I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). He implies that Jesus continued “to do and teach” through those he left behind. This dynamic combination of deed and word characterized the apostles. Their words acted and their actions spoke. Acts is full of action verbs: they prayed, they spoke, they healed, they gave their testimony, they sold their goods, they went about preaching. So we need to match our words with our deeds, and our deeds with our words. This must begin with witnessing where we are (“in Jerusalem”) and doing what we already know.
Revolutionary action in evangelism will mean breaking some new ground. It will mean acting with other Christians from other churches. Our task is to confront everyone with the Gospel, and no one church can accomplish that job. Think what it would mean in your neighborhood if the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran, and the Bible church sent out teams of visitors to say, “We’ve come from all these churches to ask you to receive our Lord into your life and follow him in whichever of our churches he leads you to!”
Revolutionary action in evangelism will mean taking the message to people where they are. Jesus preached on farms, by the roadside, in boats, at dinner parties in the homes of sinners; and those who are really touching people for Christ today are largely following his pattern. I think of Billy Graham going on the Mike Douglas and Johnny Carson shows to make “sinner contact.” I think of the inner-city “block parties” put on by the Cross-Counter work in Newark. A street is blocked off. Fried chicken is served. People eat and sing together. Then a man, chained to a wall, is dramatically released by a key labeled “love power,” and tells the crowd how Christ has set him free.
The local church can take the Gospel where the people are. What about buying TV spots during the football game on Sunday afternoon? or having your choir put on its next Christmas program in the shopping mall? or renting a theater for your next series of evangelistic meetings?
Revolutionary evangelism will mean taking the Gospel to revolutionary people. Most of our evangelism involves reaching the family and friends of those who are already Christians. Usually these are middle-class, respectable citizens. They need Christ! But we also have to think about the subcultures. Is anybody reaching out to the hippies of your town? the student radicals? the ghettos? the intellectuals? the motorcycle crowd? the rock crowd? the swingers in the apartments? Relating to these people will mean praying that God will call some Christians to be missionaries to these subcultures just as we send missionaries to Brazil or Thailand.
Revolutionary evangelism will mean earning the right to speak to those whose lives are bruised and battered by social upheaval. Can the Gospel win a hearing in, for example, the urban ghettos, where militants wear buttons saying, “I hate Jesus,” and where the Black Muslims say that Christianity is “whitey’s” religion? I recently asked this question of several men who are giving their lives to the Gospel in New York’s ghettos. Each of them agreed: Love is the key. One said, “It’s not until love is felt that the message is heard.”
Evangelism must be love with flesh on. We must echo Amos as well as Paul, Micah as well as Peter. Our message has to combine the prophets, who called for repentance and justice, with the apostles, who called for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
What I’m saying boils down to this: As Christians we have to be concerned both for love and for justice. Love goes beyond justice, and only the saving power of Jesus Christ can produce real love. But love is not a substitute for justice, and since not all men are or will be converted to Christ, and since even we Christians have imperfect love, we have a responsibility to seek justice in society. A Christian politician who seeks to pass laws that create guidelines for justice is doing God’s work just as truly as a Christian pastor who seeks to win the lost to Christ.
William Wilberforce was converted to Christ as a young man in England. Then God put within his heart a burning passion to abolish the slave trade, and Wilberforce went on a campaign to wipe out the evil not only by preaching the Gospel but also through fierce debate and political action. Such action should not be confused with evangelism. Neither should it be separated from it.
Please note carefully: I am not saying that we can build a perfect world by our efforts. We can make some things better, but the new world will not come until Christ returns. Nor am I saying that the Church should stop giving priority to evangelism and become a political lobby. What I am saying is that God wants to give through our lives as Christians a kind of preview, an advance demonstration, of the love and peace and justice that will mark his eternal kingdom. Then, when from a platform of love in action we ask men to be reconciled to God, the Church’s message will sound with the ring of truth.
Is what we have been talking about “mission impossible”? Remember that Israel’s slogan is, “A nation of unlimited impossibilities.” Should that be less true of Christ’s people in a day of such great challenge?
Are the demands too great? A leader of Students for a Democratic Society recently said, “For SDS people there is no summer vacation. We see ourselves working eighteen hours a day forever. We’re in this for a lifetime.” Dare we have less of a reckless, joyful abandonment to the revolution of our God?
When our lives and our churches fail to meet God’s revolutionary expectations, what has gone wrong? Is it not that we have failed to let the Holy Spirit, the master agent of God’s strategy, have control?
God’s revolution is going to go on, with or without you and me. But I don’t want to get left behind. So this is my prayer:
Lord, start a revolution, and start it in me! And this, from Ezekiel 21:27, is God’s sovereign answer:
I will overturn, overturn, overturn … until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him!
Leighton Ford is associate evangelist and vice-president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and Columbia Theological Seminary. This article was an address to the U.S. Congress on Evangelism, held in Minneapolis in September.
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